Imagine going to the grocery store, buying three bags of food, loading two into your car, and mindlessly leaving the third in the parking lot as you drive away. Think you’d never do that? Think again: As Dana Gunders, a senior scientist with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and author of The Waste Free Kitchen Handbook (Chronicle Books, 2015), writes on her blog: “Right now, we’re literally trashing more than one-third of our food supply — an ongoing crime against hunger, the environment, efficiency, and common sense.” 

Food waste (or wasted food) is a massive global problem of relatively recent origin. One hundred years ago — maybe even 60 years ago — there was little, if any, agricultural waste; and food didn’t travel thousands of miles in order for a Santa Fe grocery store to sell strawberries from South America in January. The NRDC has a few more sobering statistics: Only 60 percent of food produced in the U.S. is consumed; 20 percent of the food we buy is never eaten; and 90 percent of us throw excess or leftover food away too soon — adding up to about 300 pounds of wasted food per person — a habit NDRC calculates costs a family of four $1,500 a year and places enormous stress on the environment. 

 “If global food waste were a country,” Gunders writes, “it would have the third-largest greenhouse-gas footprint in the world — ranking right behind the United States and China in terms of how much carbon pollution is generated from its growing, cooling, transportation, and disposal.” Who would have guessed that food in American landfills is a major contributor to climate pollution? “Once buried in landfills,” the NRDC says, “organic waste produces methane, a greenhouse gas that’s far more dangerous than CO2, plus other toxins that can leach into groundwater.”